Tuesday night marked Mayor Gilbert Wong’s last full Cupertino City Council meeting in the top spot, and Councilmember Kris Wang’s last full meeting after eight years in the seat. On Dec. 6, member-elect Rod Sinks gets sworn in, and the council will elect a new mayor.
It also proved to be one of the longer meetings of 2011, with several highly contentious issues either on the agenda or popping up in council conversation.
The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. with a study session on a potential ground lease in a city park for a cell tower, and ended just after 12:45 a.m. with sparks over a suggestion for campaign fundraising reform.
In between there were debates over whether to call the “Community Tree Lighting Ceremony” the “Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony”, whether Cupertino should become a sister city with a city on Mainland China, among other issues.
Here’s a wrap-up of some of what happened. You can catch the full seven-hour video on the city’s website. You don't have to watch the full length of the meeting, you can jump to specific topics.
Cell Tower Ground Lease at Jollyman Park
One of the more popular contentious public issues—cell towers—kicked off the meeting. After hearing multiple protests from neighbors, the council postponed discussing a possible ground lease with AT&T for a tower at on Stelling Road.
Speakers against the lease presented a petition with 173 signatures from residents living around the park. They cited various reasons why they did not want a cell phone tower at the park, including a belief it would be a health hazard for children, and that it would be an ugly addition to the park’s beauty. They also argued there are better locations for improving coverage to neighborhoods west of Highway 85.
On the other side of the issue, Capt. Carl Neusel of the Sheriff’s Office told the council that improved voice and data coverage is urgently needed in the city for safety reasons. As an example, he said poor coverage negatively impacted the department’s ability to communicate during the
While a tower at Jollyman would not have a broad reach, it would provide coverage for deputies in western neighborhoods with current extremely poor coverage, and would allow residents in those areas to call 911 from cell phones.
Council members said they wanted to postpone the discussion until after the new council was seated. Wang did not participate in the discussion, recusing herself because she lives within 500 feet of the park.
‘Oh, Christmas-Community-Holiday-Generic Event Tree…’
It’s the at 6 p.m. on Dec. 2 at the this year, but the council voted—with mixed feelings—to call it the “Tree Lighting Ceremony” in 2012, despite residents who urged the compromise, “Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony”.
The city has been holding the annual event under the “Community”-only moniker since 1992, according to Parks and Recreation Director Mark Linder. In light of the community-building work the city has been engaged in since that time to bring together diverse cultures, he strongly recommended against attaching “Christmas” to the name.
“The community tree is simply one expression of the desire to be a community,” Linder said. He added, “no faith tradition is given a preference or singled out.” Linder also said that members of other faith traditions in the city have told staff that “it would be highly disappointing” and divisive to make it a Christmas tree. He also noted that other local cities that sponsor similar events keep the name secular.
Several speakers strongly disagreed with a secular name. Calling the tree an important cultural symbol, St. Joseph of Cupertino Choir Director Dan Morris told the council that, “it is not the place of the government to change the name and render it generic.”
Many urged the council to at least compromise and add the name “Christmas” to the event.
Wong reflected the sentiments of others on the council when he said he was “truly torn about it.” He and others said that people know in reality it is a Christmas tree, even when it’s not called that.
Councilmember Orrin Mahoney tried to get votes for “Holiday Tree”, and failed. Councilmember Barry Chang said he could support “Community Christmas Tree”, but that also failed. Wong tried to convince the council to continue the entire discussion until after further community outreach took place on the issue, and that failed, as well.
In the end Wang said, “How about nothing, just ‘Tree Lighting.’ Will that work?” Audience members called out it would not work. But Mahoney seconded and the council voted 3-2 for "Tree Lighting", with Chang and Wong dissenting.
Sister Cityhood with Kunshan, China?
The council agreed to send a letter to officials in Kunshan, China, expressing interest in a possible future sister city cultural exchange, but not after much effort by a skeptical Wang to postpone a decision.
Wang thought a committee of citizens advocating sister cityhood was moving too fast and that there was not enough evidence that a strong connection between the two cities could be made. She also seemed to question whether the effort was driven by Cupertino residents, or by outside interests, and even by Wong, who visited Kunshan earlier this year.
Kunshan Sister City Committee Chairperson Don Sun said people of the city on Mainland China are anxious to establish a relationship. He said delegates had visited Cupertino in July, and will be back Dec. 1. He said both cities have similar high tech backgrounds and interest in education.
Several speakers advocated for a more formal relationship as a sister city, including former Mayor Patrick Kwok. But the council was not convinced the two cities were ready for that step. Members voted 4-1 for the letter of intent, with Wong dissenting.
Tense Moments Over Campaign Fundraising Reform Request
Four weeks after , another tense moment flared on Tuesday night when Chang asked that the topic of campaign fundraising reform be placed on a future agenda.
Chang said he wants the council to consider placing limits on amounts that individuals and organizations may donate to candidates. —although by what turned out to be a slim lead over Sinks— for
As Chang was laying out his ideas for reform, Wong interrupted with, “Councilmember Chang you also got a $10,000 contribution from a single source,” in an earlier campaign. Chang said it was from a good friend who does not have development interests in Cupertino.
“You’re contradicting yourself taking a $10,000 donation, and then you’re running for supervisor next year,” Wong said. He then criticized Chang for before his term with Cupertino is complete in 2013.
“You’re not focusing on the residents of Cupertino,” Wong pressed. He also accused Chang of using his council report time to campaign for supervisor.
Chang said he has not made up his mind yet, although he admitted he is interested in running out of his interest in enforcing regulations on , which lies just outside of Cupertino within the county’s jurisdiction. Chang is one of the company's top critics.
As Chang continued to talk about possible reforms, Wong persisted in interrupting, finally saying that he’s “been very patient” all year, and “I’m fed up with it.”
No other council members expressed interest in Chang's request for the issue to appear on a future agenda.